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1. Listen to the wisdom of 4 year olds.

2. Dance freely without worry about what you look like.

3. Curl up on the couch and let someone sing you to sleep.

4. Say yes when you want to and no when you don’t.

5. Go on secret missions with young friends (like my dear John) to leave message of hope around the city with sidewalk chalk.

6. Welcome someone who needs you into your home.

7. Then, let the kitten sleep on your bed (as if you have a choice).

8. Call your cousin (or whoever it is in your life who you know loves you to your toes).

9. Take pictures of everyone you love and the things that fill your heart with gratitude.

10. Drink chai tea.

11. Laugh completely and entirely–don’t hold back, even if you need to lay down on the floor and tears are pouring down your cheeks.

12. Take a long bath followed up with a warm shower.

13. Skinny dip every chance you get.

14. Read out loud. Snuggle long after the little one has fallen asleep.

15. Make guacamole and eat the entire bowl–or save some for lunch. Or eat the entire bowl and then make some more for lunch.

16. Get lost in a book.

17. Take the metro. Take walks.

18. Tell the people you love that you love them–even when, especially when, it might seem like it is coming out of the blue.

19. Get new glasses so that you can see clearly.

20. Clean out the closets. Clean the floors. Clean the bathtub.

21. Head out into the woods and stay there for a few days.

22. Cry when you need to.

23. Play your guitar–loudly (even if its badly). Play only for yourself if you want.

24. Wade in the water’s edge. Let your feet sink into the mud and get all sticky.

25. Move into action even as you sit in stillness.

26. Cook dinner with your dear ones and eat it outside.

27. Go out for icecream and let it drip down your face and get on your nose.

28. Drive to a farm and pick fresh berries, peaches, plums or whatever is in season.

29. Light candles and say prayers just sit silently and hold hard moments for what they are. Trust that “All will be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Whisper it until you believe it.

30. Throw your arms around the people who delight you.

Inspired by the gorgeous Jen Lemen and my dear cousin Leenie both who have reminded me that the only time I am ever unhappy is when I find myself wanting the joy I don’t have and ignoring the crazy joy exploding around me.


Today was the first day of school in our neck of the woods. While I mourn the passing of summer (with her promise of long lazy days, nights by the pool, adventure and breaks in the routine) I also relish the return to rhythm and routine that the school year brings. The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and brand new notebooks instills in me a sense of calm and order and new beginnings. Its an opportunity to start fresh, develop new habits and start all over again.

Last night Max and I emptied out his backpack–turned it completely upside down. We clean it out at the end of the school year, but it always seems that there are things we are not quite ready to let go of that somehow linger all summer. Sure enough, there on the floor, were the forgotten notes, cherished book, favorite pencils, stubby erasers and half eaten cookie that showed that second grade was a year well lived. We sorted out a few pencils for the pencil jar in the kitchen, put the book on the shelf and threw the rest away. We shook out whatever crumbs remained clinging and declared a fresh slate as we loaded the backpack with the new pencil box, highlighters and loose leaf paper that his teachers asked us to supply.

I think this time of year is all about just that–permission to let go of whatever is no longer needed in order to really begin again. To start anew, not at the same place but with all the years of wisdom behind us. To carry the accumulated wisdom forward without all the half eaten cookies and stubby broken erasers to weigh us down.

This weekend, I was furiously trying to organize our house to make way for our babysitting coop that uses our house as homebase during the school year. For some reason, I found myself deep into my bedroom closet. I think I had gone there in search of a hanger and decided to donate one thing to Goodwill. It’s no lie when they say that one thing leads to another because an hour and a half later I was still at it. You would be amazed at what I found was still in my closet. Not half-eaten cookies but clothes and boxes of letters and other items that should have been moved long ago. But as I put each item in the appropriate pile, I knew full well why it still lurked all dusty in my closet. I must not have been ready to let that thing go. Its OK. Its going now.

Clearing is an iterative process. I let go and create space. The spaciousness that’s created gives me courage and suddenly find I am able to let go of so much more. And so it goes, every fall, every spring, every time I need some room, every time I need a change. I let go of what no longer serves me to make room for what I need to learn.

I find that this physical tangible exercise of cleaning out my closets and emptying Max’s backpack has a momentum of its own. It’s no lie when they say one thing leads to another. Suddenly I am inspired to leave behind all sorts of things that no longer fit me: old stories, old habits, old fears, and even some old dreams I long ago outgrew.

And you my friend, what are you letting go of, so that you might begin anew? How do you prepare for the new learning that will come your way?

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I like to think of myself as a glass half full, optimistic kind of girl. And in many ways that’s right.

But every now and again, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realize how I easily I can get stuck in the “no” position. Perhaps it is because life can sometimes get complicated and whatever is in front of me starts to feel impossible and undoable. It’s easy to get tired in that place and start to think that we are in a survival mode. Suddenly I start to look at everything through that lens. Like a deer caught in the headlights or a warrior fending off an attack, I start to put up a shield, trying to limit, control, keep the chaos to a minimum.

When I am in that space, the answer to most questions suddenly becomes no.

Are you coming north for a visit? (no–can’t afford it)
Are you coming over tonight? (no–I am too tired)
Can we go to the pool? (no–I have chores to do)
Can I have an Italian ice? (no–because I said so)

There are lots of good reasons to say no. Personal safety. Health. Exhaustion. A need for some quiet time. A need to set boundaries. No is a perfectly good answer to lots of questions, especially when it is well thought through. The problem is that I can sometimes, without thinking, start to wield “no” like a shield–an attempt to block out life until I can get a grip. No becomes the default position out of fear. No can be an excuse not to move forward, to embark on adventure or connect in a new way.

And then I wonder why I can sometimes find myself feeling stuck.

Over and over I have learned that the way I create magic in my life is when I thoughtfully and deliberately, open up and say yes. Say yes to impossible things. Say yes to thinks that make no sense but just seem right. Open our heart, open the door, open the house and say welcome–come in, yes, please, do. The best decisions in my life miraculous did not start with an anguished debate but rather unfolded from a simple yes. Without fail, over and over again I learn that simply switching from a no to a yes frame of mind is a key that unlocks a world of magic. Sometimes the best way to shift your entire outlook, your entire heart, your entire mood is to simply say yes.

Especially when the question is something like this:

“Mama…I love her so much. Can we please take her home?”

Saying yes changes everything.

It gives someone hope. It creates the space for love. It opens the doors to miracles.

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Welcome Tabitha Tessa Casey-Bolanos. Many adventures await you and your boy.

The summer has raced by at epic speed. I don’t know why, but I am always amazed and shocked when August announces herself. While I have come to terms with the fleeting qualities of spring, autumn and winter, I never quite believe that summer passes. And when it does I always get a tiny bit frantic.

On Saturday, a friend commented that I had this spazzy energy about me, like a juggler desperately spinning way too many plates. I am sure you know that feeling too. I was spinning way all these plates, while hopping on one foot and, having dropped quite a few, I was dancing around to avoid cutting my tender feet on the shards of the broken ones that lay strewn all around me.

One of the luxuries I have given myself this year is a week of stay-cation, strategically placed the week before we go away and right before school starts again. It is a week to focus on nothing but catching up, cleaning up, looking up, dumping out, digging out, sweeping out, starting fresh, starting over, just getting started. It officially started on Saturday. But my friend knew that I was in no place to start such a week. It was true–I had a bit of deer caught in the headlights kind of look. Too many things to do–too many things on my mind. I would start one project and then look at the dishes piled high in the sink. I would start to clean the dishes but then think I really needed to start a load of laundry to maximize the time. In the first hour or so of my “Week of Productivity”, I thought I would never get through the day, let alone the week at all without making myself crazy.

But then, the answers came.

They came because I was reflecting on the spazzy, plate spinning voices in my head. The ones who keep it all going, my 47 things, for better or worse. These mental to-do list spurting gremlins reminded me of those people at meetings. You know the ones–the ones with really important contributions who insist on being heard at exactly the moment when their idea takes everyone off track. The ones who you love to have in your meetings for their creativity and their persistence, but you hate to have in meetings because they move the meeting farther and farther from its goals.

The key to managing these people (and my gremlins) is I think we all know–acknowledgement. At work, we use the old facilitator’s trick of keeping “a parking lot”–the big piece of paper where we can put the stuff we need to get to–just not right now. There is something magic about writing it down. It creates a kind of peace. We are heard and so we can stay focused.

I am whispering what I did this week here to you, just in case, you know, you feel this way too sometimes. I swear its magic.

HOW TO STOP SPINNING PLATES
1. Take one day to drop all the plates. Plan nothing. Let everything fall. Visualize them falling, smashing, it all coming apart. Don’t rush, don’t do on the anything on the “to-do” list unless you must for personal safety of you or your loved ones. This is important to start the reset button. Its OK, I promise.
2. Visit with people you love. Eat good food. Soak in the sunshine.
3. On the next day, take out a piece of paper and a pen. Write down everything you think you need to do, no matter how small, no matter the priority. Don’t edit the list. Don’t categorize. Don’t make it neat. This is the parking lot this is where you place everything that might needle you all day. As you write down each thing, imagine yourself, actually placing it in a basket to be dealt with later. Promise yourself that one by one these things will get done, no matter how long the list. If its here on the list, it is safe.
4. Fold up that piece of paper and put it and your pen in your pocket.
5. Start one thing on your list. When your mind starts in with the to-do list ask yourself if it its already on the list. If it is, tell yourself its on the list, you can let it go. (If its still bugging you write it down again). If its not or you are not sure, take 5 seconds to write it down, imagining it safely going away, out of reach, into the basket to be taken out in due time. Get back to what you were doing.
6. When you are done, cross that thing off and then pick another thing to do.
7. Anytime the “to-do” gremlin comes to call, acknowledge him, write her ideas down quickly, without editing or categorizing and then get back to the issue at hand. Write down anything that comes to mind. Appointments (lab work done Tuesday 8:30), phone calls (call Kaiya, call Erica, call Max’s dr to set up appointment), things to pick up at the store, anything that is distracting (remind Max to find the flashlight when he gets home).
8. When you have no more space on the paper, get a fresh sheet of paper. Write down the things you still have to do. Leave out the things that you have already done. You can get rid of duplicates. You will find that after a day or so, the gremlin has fewer and fewer ideas. If she hasn’t slowed down, thats OK–you can staple another sheet of paper to this one.

So far, this has (I think) made me more productive. More importantly it has made me sane. We will see the final results at the end of the week.

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This may sound absolutely crazy but it is totally true.

There is a major intersection I need to pass almost every day. On the corner is a restaurant–and old fashioned inn. They have a pretty garden which does a lot to brighten up an otherwise dismal urban corner, full of concrete and speeding cars. This time of year that garden is full of sunflowers.

Every time I pass, I comment on them, exclaiming to Max (my perpetual passenger) “Look! Look how spectacular these sunflowers are!” These particular ones have flowers the size of my head. Their stems reach at least eight, maybe ten feet tall, maybe even taller. I have never gotten out of my car to stand along side them (though I have secretly longed to do so). Its not good “busy intersection” etiquette. And the garden is private property and all that.

One recent morning, Max and I passed by in the early morning. The intersection was not terribly busy, even though he and I were running late. As we passed those sunflowers, whose heads are now bowing, whose leaves are now yellowing, I said one more time, “Look Max…Look at sunflowers.”. From the back seat a tired Max piped up. “Mom, you always are telling me to look at the sunflowers. Why?”

“Well,” I said, “Because they are beautiful.”

“But they are dying” he said. “”Look, that one is almost dead”.

“They are not dying”, I said. “They are changing. They are giving their power back to the earth, and they too will go there and their leaves and roots and decaying bits and parts will be food for the plants who grow next. And next year they will return again. There are always sunflowers here every summer.”

We turned the corner and I took one last fleeting look. “Oh how I love them,” I sighed. “The sunflowers are so beautiful.”

And just like that a voice strong and clear but gentle and sweet rose up from my heart and whispered to me, “And the sunflowers think you are beautiful too!”. I immediately, without warning started to cry.

Several years ago, during the height of my grief over my marriage, I would go out to my yard an sit with my back against the oak trees. It was the oak trees that initially attracted me to this house–their ancient arms seem to embrace the whole property. This space feels held, if a little shady. It is always several degrees cooler up on my hill than in the rest of town. And I always feel protected. Whenever I would lean my aching back against that tree, I felt like a little girl leaning against her strong grandfather. I knew I was safe.

I have been thinking a lot this week about our relationship to the plants around us. Perhaps it is the fact that I am keeping a garden now. My veggies are not just something that show up neatly stacked at the grocery story, or charmingly arranged at the farmers market, but they are growing in the ground before my eyes. I planted tiny seeds, watched with surprise when shoot grew, was amazed as I saw the plants grow up before me. For the longest time my chili plants seemed to do nothing and then all of a sudden after weeks and week of heat they took off to the races and are now laden with fruit. When I pick them, I realize that something living, something which is always changing, is now changing to the point where it can share with me. It drew some power from the earth and now offers gifts. I will take those gifts and consume them and the power will be transformed. I will be transformed and the cycle will continue.

What i do with that power is up to me. Will I be as generous as the cherry tomatoes that never seem to stop? Will I be as sweet as the carrots which keep surprising me with the size of their carrot roots/hearts? Will I be as beautiful as the sunflowers that take my breath away no matter how heavy the traffic? Will I offer shelter and protection like the oaks.

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Photo by Max

I am at a place in my journey that requires a tremendous amount a patience.

For two years I have been dealing with a an absurd and scary financial problem. This was not a problem that I created (I have plenty of those too) but one which arose from my ex-husband and his inability to deal with things that were his responsibility when he left. One which arose from his deciding he didn’t need me. One that arose when he stopped doing what I had faithfully done for him, year after year. Its a problem that would push my buttons in the best of circumstances. But that fact that it has become mine costs me. It costs me dearly.

Most days it just floats about, an annoying ghost that hangs over my left shoulder, but on some days it knocks me to the floor and leaves me feeling powerless. This is not an insurmountable problem but solving it has not been simple. In fact, solving it myself requires energy (and resources) I simply don’t have and every baby step I have had to take has left me drained and completely laid out flat. I have been at his mercy and each time he doesn’t do what he needs to do, I find myself abandoned yet again, reliving the sorrow and the loss that happened when we split. It has required me to dig deep on the side of faith. It has required me to threaten things I never imagined having the threaten. It has left me shaken in the part of my heart that is about being held, nurtured and care for–about my personal sense of safety. It has left me wrung out.

The specifics are not important. The problem will resolve itself one way or another I am sure. The fact though is that at the end of the day, when its all taken care of, I will have paid dearly, at the very least with a piece of my soul. The waiting for the someday when it will no longer be a problem is killing me.

Some days I feel like a total whiner. On the scale of all the problems faced by mothers in the world, this problem seems small. I can afford to feed my child and keep him warm. I am able to keep him safe from war and criminal elements. We have our health, our intelligence and each other.

Other days though I feel so completely alone and overwhelmed. On the scale of all the problems faced by mothers in my community, a mecca of mini-vans and juice boxes and college savings plans, this one seems unbelievably huge. And so out of my control. It can leave me feeling like I don’t belong. And stuck. And left behind.

Sometimes I feel as though for the last 2 years I have been parked at a crossroads on my path, waiting for a parade of milling sheep to go by. They just keep coming, those sheep, with my ex-husband’s financial issues tied onto them like saddle bags. And I am waiting.

I ask myself what is there to be learned from this situation. It can’t be that I need to learn to work harder. I have worked myself practically to death. It can’t be that I need to learn to be smarter. I have stretched my brain as far as it will go. And the only thing I can possibly belive is this: patience.

Patience is a hard one for me. Not the kind of patience that requires loving attention, like the patience we have for our children.

I am talking about the kind that simply is willing to wait, to take baby steps, to do things in such tiny doses that they feel like they carry you nowhere. I am a big change kind of girl–I like to see results. When I make a decision I move, boldly, no waiting around. I measure the actions I take against what I have earned and make corrections along the way. To be so way-laid and trapped by the actions of another is excrutiating. And really, more than anything, that is what brings me grief in all this. That while this problem remains unsolved, my life seems stuck and despite my best efforts I can’t unstick it.

If I am honest, I will admit that my inability to be patient is sucking the happiness out of me. There I said it. I don’t know what realization is scarier: that it is my own inability to be patient that is causing me despair, or that it really is sucking the joy out of my life. Either way its a no-win situation.

And so I think it is time for me to learn to just sit. If you asked me even one day ago what I was hoping for my birthday I would tell you that what I most wanted was movement. But the truth is, movement will only get me a little farther up the road. What I really need is to learn to be happy in stillness, no matter what life brings. I do a lot of talk about meditation and pull it out when crises hit but as a daily practice it is nowhere to be seen. Thats why for my birthday I will be going here, to sit for the day, to take a plunge into patience, to learn again (and again) how to just sit.